2946099

The relief being felt around the world now that vaccines against COVID-19 are finally being dispensed should be tempered by the realisation that there will not be a swift end to the pandemic and all its restrictions and risks.

That is particularly so here in T&T, where we have been looking on from a distance at the roll-out of vaccines in the United States, United Kingdom and other developed countries.

This country has signed on to COVAX, a global collaboration initiative aiming to distribute two billion doses of vaccines by the end of 2021. However, there is no word yet from health officials on when T&T will get its supply.

Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, during his contribution to the 2021 Budget debate, had said US$9 million had already been invested in the purchase of 462,000 doses of vaccines, which should cover about 33 per cent of our population. These will come from a portfolio of candidates, some of which are still in development stage, including Sinovac, Sinopharm, the University of Oxford, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Moderna.

But already, in the early stages of distribution of the already-approved Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, there are logistical complexities and high demand which could leave T&T far back in the queue for a supply. The earliest prospect for a supply through the WHO-administered COVAX facility is the second quarter of 2021 and even that depends on some variables outside the control of local public health officials.

Some countries, including participants in the COVAX arrangement, have hedged their bets by signing bi-lateral side-agreements with drug manufacturers. T&T, on the other hand, based on what has been heard from Minister Deyalsingh, seems to have placed a lot of confidence in COVAX’s promise of equal access.

As the world enters the vaccine phase of battling the coronavirus, it is time for Government to give some clearer answers on just how it plans to navigate the logistical hurdles involved in getting the vaccine into T&T and ensuring doses are administered to ensure coverage of the majority of the population.

Citizens, already chafing under the restrictions necessary to keep COVID-19 at bay, are more likely now, than in the early stages of the pandemic, to fall into complacency, or to simply flout the laws.

One of the biggest challenges ahead for health officials will still be getting citizens to take the vaccine so that herd immunity from COVID-19 can be achieved.

Given all that is at stake, it is time the Government tells citizens what’s going on, what is the plan for the vaccine and whether they’ve confirmed which vaccine will be available here and how it will be distributed?

The light at the end of the tunnel is still far in the distance for T&T. There is a lot of work ahead for Minister Deyalsingh and the public health team to get past the complex vaccine hurdles still ahead.

The nation’s health, livelihoods and future are at stake. The nation deserves to be told what’s next in this fight against COVID-19.